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Despite the challenges that female politicians have faced
throughout history, many have preserved and paved the way for generations of
women after them to increase women’s representation in government.  Even prior to the ratification of the
Twenty-First Amendment, which granted women the right to vote across the United
States, women were fighting for their voices to be heard in the adverse climate
of the American political culture:

Many tried to make
a differences as best they could – and succeeded not only by breaking glass ceilings
and proving that women could handle the job but also by introducing important
legislation, standing up for their fellow citizens’ rights and much more.

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The first woman to run for federal office in the United
States was women’s suffrage activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In her state of
New York she won only twenty-four of the twelve thousand votes cast. In 1916,
the first woman elected to the House of Representatives was Jeannette Rankin, a
Republican from Montana (“Women”). As of 2017, three states, Delaware,
Mississippi, and Vermont, have never been represented by a woman in Congress.
Nancy Pelosi, a Democratic representative from California, was the first and
only woman to serve as Speaker of the House from 2007 to 2011 and is the
highest ranking female elected official in United States history. The history
of women in politics is an ongoing story that “…is still being written by many
women who have yet to make it to the history books.” (Zorthian).

Today, more 240 years after to the founding of the United
States, women make up over half of the total United States population, and yet
they are still under-represented in the government. In 2016, the Center for
American Women and Politics at Rutgers University found that women occupy only
23% of government positions in the United States (Abrams).  There are currently one hundred and five women
serving in Congress, meaning that women make up 19.6% of the five hundred and
thirty-five elected Senators and Representatives (“Women are”). Although female
politicians have made unprecedented progress towards equal representation for
women in Congress, the United States is still ranked 97th in the
world in regards to the number of women participating in government, and many
political scientists have theorized about the cause of this in order to find a
way to correct this disproportion (“Women’s Representation”).

One theory as to why women are under-represented in United
States politics is that women are not given the same level of encouragement to
pursue a political career as men. In
2008, Jennifer Lawless, the director of American University’s Women and
Politics Institute, conducted a study that examined the differences in
political recruitment between men and women with similar income, political
interest, age, level of education, and career status. The results of this study
showed that women are less likely than men to be encouraged to run for office. However,
Lawless also stated that encouragement from the parents “has the potential to
be a great equalizer.” A potential candidate’s willingness to run for political
office may stem from his or her childhood experiences, therefore the importance
of political participation must be emphasized for children of both genders
during the most essential developmental stages of life (Bangs).

In another 2011 study by Lawless, female candidates were
proven to be less confident in themselves and in their campaigns than their
male counterparts. In this study, men and women with equal qualifications in
the fields of law, business, education, and politics were surveyed, as these
are the occupations that produce the highest numbers of elected officials. The
results of this survey showed that 62% of male participants had considered
running for office, while only 45% of female participants said the same. This
evidence supports the statement that women are statistically more likely to
believe that when they run for office, they will not perform as well at the
polls as men. A woman’s willingness to run for political office often stems
from her own self-perception, therefore women are less likely to undertake the
challenge that is running for a political office due to their own self-doubt
and lack of confidence (Bangs).

may also be less politically active because of wealth gaps between men and
women and the high costs of a political career. Personal wealth is a major contributing factor
towards a candidate’s recruitment, campaigning, and success once elected. The
median wealth for single women ages 18-64 was only 49% of the median wealth for
males of the same age range. Political scientists Michael Barber and Daniel
Butler conducted a survey on campaign finance as a result of the widespread
belief that raising money on political campaigns is more difficult for women than
for men. The results of this study showed that men do in fact raise more money
than women do with regards to campaign contributions and individual donors.
However, Barber and
Butler also noted that the perception that it is more difficult to find a
woman’s campaign may be impacting women’s underrepresentation more than the inequality
in the funding itself (Fang).

familial roles are yet another factor that can limit women on the campaign
trail. In 2007, the Women and Politics Instituted of American University
conducted a study that showed that women are twelve times more likely to be
responsible for household duties and childcare than men in homes with two working
adults (Terkel). During the 2008 Republican campaign for president, many
questions arose about how the vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin would
care for her five children, one being a newborn with down syndrome, while on
the campaign trail. These questions often swayed both the media and voters’
confidence in her ability to be successful in motherhood and in the vice
presidency simultaneously. Christiana Henry de Tessa, an Oregon voter who
supported Senator Barack Obama in 2008 election told The New York Times, “You can juggle a BlackBerry and a breast pump
in a lot of jobs, but not in the vice presidencyMCD1 .” (Kantor)

variable that affects many women who run for office is their lack of the advantage
of incumbency. Being an incumbent provides an immeasurable advantage to
officeholder when they are up for re-election. Political gatekeepers such as
party leaders, donors, and important advocacy groups are responsible for
recruiting candidates, inciting support and funds for their campaign, and
convincing outside groups to fund their campaigns. Surviving the difficult
undemocratic “primaries” conducted by these gatekeepers is especially difficult
for non-incumbents. This is because the majority of these candidates have
trouble accomplishing the networking that is necessary to bring in the number
of private donations they need to persuade political gatekeepers that their
campaigns are worth the investment of time and capital. However, even once a
candidate has survived the screening of the political gatekeepers, unseating an
incumbent is extremely difficult. In 2016, 97% of the incumbents in the House
of Representatives who ran for re-election won. Of these elected incumbents,
81% were male. This pattern of re-election of incumbents typically holds true
at the federal, state, and local levels of elected office in the United States.
Breaking these patterns is essential to ensuring that elected officials are
best representing their current constituents and are focusing on the most
relevant issues in the United States today (Warner).

a woman’s path to political office is often difficult, the importance of
women’s contributions to our government is emphasized by those women who have
been successful in politics. Many female politicians work to prioritize women’s
issues in Congress, and they show determination to keep these issues on the
Congressional agenda. Often, female representatives view it as their duty to
represent the interests of other demographics that have not been equally
represented in Congress, including the poor, immigrants, and people of color.
Women also bring a new perspective to Congressional decisions because of their
life experiences that often contrast those of their male colleagues. Although
some women in Congress feel that they must work harder than their male
counterparts to be taken seriously and to prove that they deserve their spot in
Congress, these women are persistent in their efforts to spread the belief that
women’s issues should be taken seriously by all members of Congress who
represent constituents of both genders. As House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi
said, “This is not for the faint of heart, and you really have to be ready to
make the fight. It’s worth it. It’s necessary for our country. But it is hard.”
Though the glass ceiling of our political culture remains an obstacle for women
who wish to pursue a political career, the cracks that women throughout history
have made in this barrier have paved the way for women in the future to work to
increase the representation of women in the United States government. 

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